Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Screenplay: Fuji Yahiro & Yoshikata Yoda
Starring: Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Kyôko Kagawa
Running Time: 125 min
Year: 1954
BBFC Certificate: PG

Sansho Dayu has a reputation as being one of the finest examples of director Mizoguchi’s work and, not having anything to compare it with, myself, I would say that it stands as being an excellent example of Japanese cinema on its own merits.

Since my fellow Blueprint scribe, David Brook, has already reviewed Sansho the Bailiff elsewhere on this site I’m not going to warble on and explain the plot or go into great detail about my thoughts on the film itself. However, I’ll just say, that, despite being somewhat slow and steady in its general pacing there is still much that grabs the attention and I’d whole-heartedly recommend giving Sansho the Bailiff a look. The set-ups are immaculate and you could freeze-frame anywhere throughout the film and see a work of art within the frame so I’d agree with David’s view that the film is really something to behold, despite it being in black and white.

This time round it is Criterion who are releasing this Eastern classic, and, as per usual, with that esteemed company they’ve done a bang-up job with the extras, which are as follows:

An audio commentary by Japanese literature professor, Jeffrey Angles – I must admit I haven’t had chance to listen to this yet.

A video interview with film critic and historian Tadao Sata (24 mins) – Sata talks about how Sansho was one of the first Japanese films to depict women rebelling against men. Sata then goes into some of the director’s back-story to help explain some of his choices and reveals that Mizoguchi had a complicated relationship with women, which later informed his choices both in life and on film. He also talks about the story’s origins, from the middle-ages, where the story of Sansho was passed down orally from generation to generation before being finally adapted in book form by Ogai Mori.

Interview with first assistant director Tokuzo Tanaka (15 mins) – Tokuzo goes into some detail about the shooting process and explains that his most important job on set was managing the shooting schedule. He also reveals that he did a lot of research beforehand in order to best capture the period details, including the costumes.

Interview with actress Kyoko Kagawa (10.5 mins) – Kyoka explains how she worked with some of the greatest Japanese directors, including Akira Kurosawa (High and Low), Mikio Narusa (Mother) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story). She recalls her experiences shooting the film and working with the director, who she says asked his actors to react to each other and not just say their lines at the appropriate juncture. He was keen to move away from the more formal approach to creating characters and liked the actors to explore their emotions when doing a scene. He was also keen to confront the issue of slave labour on film.

Sansho the Bailiff (a.k.a. Sansho Dayu) - Criterion
4.5Overall Score
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About The Author

After a lengthy stint as a print journalist, Justin now works as a TV and film producer for Bazooka Bunny. He's always been interested in genre films and TV and has continued to work in that area in his new day-job. His written work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications, including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not running around on set, or sat hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard, he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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